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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

It was a phone call they won’t soon forget. The Haliburton Highlands Secondary School Grade 10 students Madeline Hopkins, Sam Longo and Emily Klose telephoned the Community Living Haliburton County’s co-ordinator of operations Lianna Greer waited only minutes after they won a $5,000 grant for their Youth Philanthropy Initiative (YPI) presentation endorsing her organization.

It came as a welcomed surprise to Greer. “We never win ... Wow, holy cow ... That’s the best news ever,” she said. “Thank you so, so, so much.” Later, Greer described the teens as going “above and beyond” in their efforts. She was quite taken by the students’ efforts during their research process and said this organization based at the old Victoria Street School has plans to renovate their activity room, which hosts the week-long day program – financial literacy and life skills to enable participants to be independent.

This YPI grant motivates high school students across our country, Scotland, New York City and Northern Ireland to learn about local charities, discover their importance and function within the community and empowers them to advocate for a charity. There is no charge to participate for secondary schools. However it must be open to students across one grade level and be a marked project that is part of a mandatory course. YPI is part of an umbrella of philanthropy programs funded by the Toskan Casale Foundation. The founders of M.A.C. Cosmetics (Julie Toskan-Casale, her husband Victor Casale and brother Frank Toskan) started the foundation in 2001. YPI was started a year later.

Going into the day, the group was confident they would do their best, but didn’t have any idea if they would win and beat out the other four presenting student groups, comprised mainly of Grade 10 students on Thursday at the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion. The other groups endorsed Cottage Dreams, the Haliburton County Volunteer Dental Outreach and two for SIRCH. Presentations varied slightly, but mainly included PowerPoint presentations, accompanied by students taking turns speaking. Some also had videos and poems like the winning group. Last year’s winning group, Rebecca Hamilton and Leah Berry, who represented SIRCH, helped to judge this year’s presentations. Added to the panel so there were four judges were students Kristen Adams, chosen by HHSS teacher Paul Longo, and Abe Churko, who was filling in for absent group member Carmen Galea. They critiqued the groups’ presentations on content, style, demonstration of how the $5,000 could benefit the organization and execution of the presentation, assigning extra marks for including photography, skits, original music or poetry.

Absent for the winning presentation due to a vacation was group member Trevor Turner, who has volunteered for Community Living before and knew Greer. It was his suggestion to pick the organization, which was accepted by the group. None of the other members knew very much about it before the research, which revealed Community Living is important for people who have an intellectual disability. Madeline characterized Community Living as an essential service, saving lives through its programs such as the Residential Program, the Building Bridges Program and the Independent Program. “These people wouldn’t have food, or homes, or jobs without Community Living. Our high school wouldn’t function without the PALS (Practical Academic Life Skills) classes the same way our community wouldn’t function without Community Living. Our PALS students here at our school? This is their future and it’s in our hands,” she said to the students and faculty during the presentation.

This year’s winning group met regularly on weekends, starting in March. Initially the entire presentation was in French. They had always hoped to be able to make it to the final group presenting at the pavilion and produced a bilingual script. It wasn’t until two weeks before that they started the work to learn the English version. Sam, who had written the original poem in French, had to rewrite another one for the presentation in English since the rhyming only worked in French. Madeline said they couldn’t think of a tasteful skit to perform so they settled on a poem, which was completed by Sam. “Sam always does poems for everything ... so he started writing poems. It was great. It was a quick little thing you can add to [the presentation],” she said. “It was fun for us. We looked forward to the end to say our poem.”

An excerpt from the poem reads: Red is the colour we all bleed. Haliburton would not be the same. Community Living is part of the frame. Emily enjoyed this success, referring to how it recognized a skill she and Sam don’t normally tap into. “Sam and I aren’t the public speaking kind so it was definitely different from performing or playing sports,” she said, comparing this win to other success they’ve all had either on the field or on the stage. Madeline adds the group has already considered volunteering for Community Living in the near future, feeling passionate about the organization. This is the 10th year the school has participated and the YPI has awarded local community organizations $50,000. There were 100 schools in Canada that participated in YPI this year. With files from archives.

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